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This week’s best radio: Cathy FitzGerald’s Moving Pictures

Gemma Cairney
Playtime… Gemma Cairney. Photograph: Amy Powell

Of all radio’s attempts to link up with the web, Cathy FitzGerald’s Moving Pictures (Tuesday, 11.30am, Radio 4) is the simplest and most successful. In each programme, she talks to experts about a detail-rich piece of art. At the same time, Google makes the work available to view while listening. The first of another short series focuses on a wall-hanging in the V&A. This was made in 1820 by Wiltshire dressmaker, Ann West. It is seething with representations of rural life at the end of the Napoleonic wars. FitzGerald speculates that West may have got her inspiration from just watching the world go by as she worked in Chippenham High Street. It’s a delightful listen.

How to Survive the Roman Empire, by Pliny and Me (Weekdays, 10.45am, Radio 4) is written by Hattie Naylor and based on real events. Venta (Nigel Barrett) is one of the slaves in the prosperous household of Pliny. The latter’s mother (Joanna Scanlan) has co-opted Venta as her “bedroom attendant”, which means every new day brings some unsought intimacy the unfortunate slave must negotiate as diplomatically as he can. Furthermore, he has to avoid being stabbed by the cook on account of his having dispatched her boyfriend in the Colosseum.

“This week, Gemma joins Kelley Deal, lead guitarist with the Breeders, in a wool and craft shop, where she talks about how she swapped her heroin habit for knitting” is not a billing from the Onion. It’s the first instalment of The Leisure Society with Gemma Cairney (Sunday, 1pm, 6 Music) in which the host interviews “cultural icons, tastemakers, artists and musicians about their loves beyond what they are known for”.

Podcast Radio Hour (Friday, 9pm, Radio 4 Extra) is a new show in which Amanda Litherland and a guest will recommend “one or two podcasts from the BBC and the rest of the podcast landscape”. This week, she and Deborah Frances White will be talking about Cariad Lloyd’s Griefcast, where comedians discuss experiences with death.

I’ve recently caught up with Talking Politics, a weekly look at the currents in contemporary political thought that comes to us from an office in the politics department of Cambridge University and is presented by Professor David Runciman. Runciman has a gift for clarity. You could start with a recent lecture called Nobody Knows Anything; Why Is Politics So Surprising?, which is a valuable corrective to the desk-banging tweets on your timeline.

Finally, I’ve also enjoyed Spectator Books Podcast, a series of interviews with recently published luminaries such as Hilary Spurling, Viv Groskop and Philip Pullman. Spectator Books is presented by the genial Sam Leith. Leith has a little catch in his delivery that quickly becomes addictive. It’s things like this that give podcasts their charm.

This article titled "This week’s best radio: Cathy FitzGerald’s Moving Pictures" was written by David Hepworth, for The Guardian on Saturday 13 January 2018 12.00pm

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